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54                             THE GAY GENIUS

and listen to the rain in the night. Keep this in mind, and don't
let us be carried away by our official ambitions."

This idea oŁ "sleeping in opposite beds listening to a storm at night"
was found in the poem of a Tang poet to his brother, and it became a
pledge between these brothers and an ideal of the happy, life that they
planned to live together when they were able to retire. Twice later,
when the brothers met together in their official careers, they reminded
one another of this promise in their poems.

Mail from the capital to Fengshiang took only ten days, and the
brothers sent each other regularly one poem a month. From these
poem letters we are able to read Su Tungpo's resdessness of spirit
during the beginning of his official career. The brothers often ho, or
"echoed" each other's poems; to "echo" a poem is to answer it with
another one using the same rhyme words. It was a good test of poetic t
skill, for the rhyming had to be natural, and this was one of the accom- *
plishnaents of all scholars in ancient China. People looked for surpris-
ing, or delightful, or refreshing turns of thought, expressed with the
prescribed rhyme words, and the lines had to have natural sequence.
As in a crossword puzzle, the difficulty increased the delight when the
rhyming was done with ease and without effort. In one of these
earliest "echo" poems, written to Tseyu, Tungpo revealed already a
complete mastery. Having to write a poem where the first two rhyme
words had to be "snow" and "'west", Tungpo wrote:

"To what can human life be likened ?
Perhaps to a wild goose's footprint on snow;
The claws' imprint is accidentally left,
But carefree, the bird flies east and west."

It remained one of Tungpo's best poems. The flying bird was a symbol
of the human spirit. In truth, the events and doings of Su Tungpo
we are reading about in this book are but the accidental footprints of a
great spirit, but the real Su Tungpo is a spirit, like a phantom bird,
that is even now perhaps making dream journeys among the stars.

Fengshiang is near the Wei River in the western part of Shensi'
province. The whole Wei valley is filled with historic sites and names
connected with ancient history, for Shensi is the cradle of Chinese
civilisation. Owing, however, to constant troubles with a very strong
neighbouring kingdom, the Shishia, situated in what is now northern
Kansuh, there was a heavy drain on the man-power and wealth of the
people, and the country was very poor. In the first yqar after his arrival
Su Tungpo built a little house and garden as tlie deputy-magistrate's